NBA Draft: DeMarcus Cousins, the boom or bust debate

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cousins_no1.jpgI clearly remember the first time I watched a Kentucky game this season. Like everyone else, I wanted to see what this John Wall kid was all about, so I timed a Saturday morning trip to the gym with a Kentucky game, got my spot on the stationary bike and watched.

Within just a few minutes I was asking, “Who is this DeMarcus Cousins?” The “other” Kentucky freshman was a beast inside — physically strong, quick feet, and he had a soft and deft touch around the rim. He looked like an NBA big thrown into a college pickup game, he was that much better than anybody else.

Scouts and general managers were already on to him for those same reasons. But they are also asking themselves: Will his million dollar body be done in by his five-cent head?

Questions of focus and work ethic popped up again at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this week when Cousins tested with 16 percent body fat (second highest level at the event). Some GM’s said he was just going through the motions at the combine, not taking it seriously.

All that puts general managers in a tough spot, as Frank Hughes reported for Sports Illustrated.

But despite Cousins’ attitude and reputation, he’s still a projected top-five pick. And his talents present an interesting quandary: If a team passes on him and he ends up being a great player, like Amar’e Stoudemire, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to identify his strength of character. After all, one talent evaluator said Cousins is the most productive minute-per-minute player in the draft after averaging 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 23.5 minutes a game for Kentucky. But if the GM picks him and he turns into a bust, like former Clippers No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to foresee the obvious red flags

By all reports Cousins came off well in the interviews in Chicago with team executives, and at 19 he deserves some leeway. I’m not proud of everything I did at 19, nobody is. But then there is this quote from his teammate Daniel Orton just this week.

“Unpredictable,” Orton said (of Cousins). “People don’t realize it, but he’s a loving kid — sometimes. I’ve seen it get out of hand, but he can control it. It’s kind of like watching a kid throw a temper tantrum.”

Some team in the top 5 will — and should — take the risk on Cousins. In the end, talent wins in the NBA and skilled, strong big men with a hunger to score like Cousins do not come around often. But I would go out and get a reliable veteran (preferably a big man) who has a good work ethic to pair with Cousins. Someone to show him what it takes to be an NBA player, someone to show him maturity and focus. Someone to be his Crash Davis.

With that, maybe the million-dollar body will come through. But there is a risk.

Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

Danny Green tugs down Dennis Schroder’s shorts (video)

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We collectively made a federal case out of J.R. Smith untying shoelaces.

We probably ought to at least question what the heck Danny Green was doing to Dennis Schroder here.

At least Schroder got the last laugh with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Hawks’ win over the Spurs.

Chris Paul says Clippers should play through Lou Williams, which sounds like a slight of Blake Griffin

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After the Clippers’ win over the Rockets last night, Chris Paul didn’t go after Blake Griffin just through a back entrance into the Clippers’ locker room.

He also seemingly went after Griffin in his post-game interview.

Asked to assess playing against his former team, Paul:

They’ve got Lou Will. Lou Will is the guy. You know what I mean? That’s the go-to guy, the guy that they should play through and stuff like that. He having a great year, and he tough. He tough, man.

Williams is having a great year, especially by the standards of career as a solid sub-star. But Griffin is a bona fide star – a tremendously skilled scorer, ball-handler and passer for a power forward. He’s clearly the Clippers’ go-to player when healthy. It’s great Williams stepped up when Griffin was injured, and Williams can run second units while Griffin is healthy. But Griffin is the go-to player.

I can’t read Paul’s intent. Maybe he genuinely disagrees and believes the Clippers should play through Williams. But – given Paul’s nd Griffin’s history and how heated last night’s game was – it sounds as if Paul is just trying to create friction within his former team and take a dig at Griffin. That’d be petty, but… yeah. Nobody would put that past Paul.

NBA Twitter had fun with Rockets, Clippers, secret tunnels

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This Clippers/Rockets story is so perfectly today’s NBA.

It’s not about the game itself (game-related stories draw far fewer eyeballs/traffic than off the court stuff). It involves drama and confrontation between star players with grudges and a guy who forced a trade. And while the players postured, there was never going to be an actual fight and everybody knew it, still the LAPD was called in.

It’s all perfect fodder for Twitter.

Just a quick recap of events. The Clippers win Monday over the Rockets at Staples Center got chippy — Blake Griffin got into it with Mike D’Antoni after running into him, Griffin and Trevor Ariza were ejected after some words where Austin Rivers was involved. After the game, Paul led a group of Warriors — James Harden, Ariza, Gerald Green — down a secret tunnel behind the locker rooms, went to the back door of the Clippers’ locker room and started to confront the Clippers. Except, nothing really happened but a verbal exchange, security broke it up and the LAPD was called in. That last part just about made Shaq fall out of his chair on Inside the NBA.

All this while Clint Capela knocked on the front door of the Clippers locker room and had it shut in his face.

This story was perfect for NBA Twitter, and it had a field day. Including the big names.

Everyone got in on the act.